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Union Pacific 844 over Donner Pass Chase 4/17/2009

by Chris Guenzler


After working a full day at Jefferson Elementary School, I came home and packed for this trip to Sacramento. Most importantly I would visit my brother Bruce Friday night and secondly I would get to chase Union Pacific 4-8-4 844 over Donner Pass. My mother drove me down to John Wayne Airport and after a quick trip through the Security Line, I arrived at Gate 1 to wait for my flight to Sacramento. It arrived late and we left fifteen minutes late. I decided to kill the flight time by taking a few pictures from the plane as Southwest Airlines took me north to Sacramento International Airport.

Views of the interesting sunset and early evening sky. It was a quick flight and we landed in Sacramento only minutes late. Out to the curb I caught the Rental Car Bus and soon was at the Dollar Rental Car Counter where I got a PT Cruiser. I drove east up Interstate 80 to Auburn and checked into the Motel 6 for the night.

4/17/2009 I was up before 6:00 AM, checked out and visited McDonald for Hot Cakes and sausage for my breakfast. I then visited an AM/PM for some supplies before I headed east over Donner Pass on a clear sunny morning. I drove by Truckee and soon arrived at Floriston and after a few minutes found my first photo location on a cold morning.

The first photo location at Floriston. Soon Ryan Wilkinson and his young boys joined me and heard on his scanner that we had a Union Pacific grain train, our special train, Amtrak and then a "Z" train heading west this morning. Soon I heard the sound of diesels working and the grain train came into our view.

The lead engines of the Union Pacific grain train.

Mid Train Helpers.

Rear Helper. Now we waited for Union Pacific 844 west to pass through Floriston. Soon I saw smoke coming up the canyon then saw the headlight of the Union Pacific 844 pulling its train.

The Union Pacific 844 passing through Floriston.

Union Pacific 4-8-4 844.

Union Pacific Southern Pacific Heritage Unit 1996.

Union Pacific Western Pacific Heritage Unit 1983. The consist of this train was Union Pacific 4-8-4 844, Water Car, UP 1996, UP 1983, 9336 Tool Car, 809, 6334, 209, 5714 Pony Express, 5818 Sherman Hill, 5480 Sunshine Special, 208, 413 Lake Bluff, 412 Lake Forrest, 314 Columbia River, 9005 Walter Dean, 5011 City of Denver and 103 Cheyenne. I got back into my PT Cruiser and drove west after the train setting up again at Hirschdale Road near Boca for my next set of pictures.

Union Pacific 844 and train passing through Boca. Back onto Interstate 80, at the California Agricultural Checkpoint two cars ahead told the officer that we were all chasing the steam train and then he waved everyone else through. From here I took the Central Truckee exit and parked down by the tracks. I walked up the tracks away from the tracks and soon found Drew Jacksich with his son and friend. A Union Pacific Truck pulled right into our picture so walked back up the tracks and set up there. Drew's son and his friend left for another photo location and soon we heard that distinct whistle of the Union Pacific 4-8-4 844.

This sure is a great looking train the Union Pacific is running into California today. Back in the car I drove over the summit of Donner Pass and down to Soda Springs and then crossed the tracks parking off Soda Springs Road. I first set up with snow in the foreground but when two photographers got in front of our photo line, I walked further east then set up again. We all figured that the Union Pacific 844 would wait at Norden for Amtrak but they departed early and finally we heard that fantastic whistle of the Union Pacific 4-8-4 844. Soon the train came into view once more.

Another set of great pictures with those snowy mountains in the background. Back in the car, my next stop would be at Yuba Gap. There I walked around the corner then up a snow bank to a dry spot below a rock. That would be my photo location overlooking the train coming out of the tunnel at Yuba Gap.

Amtrak 5 the California Zephyr passing through Yuba Gap. I learned later that the California Zephyr had passed the Union Pacific 844 at Shed 10 and then would follow him west down the west slope of Donner Pass.

A few minutes later the Union Pacific 844 and train came into my view for this unique picture. I hiked back to my car and drove west and saw the Union Pacific 844 and train pass through Emigrant Gap just before I got there. I drove first to Alta but didn't like the lighting so I went to another grade crossing and set up there.

First the westbound California Zephyr passed through Alta.

Later the Union Pacific 844 and train passed through Dutch Flat and I was happy with my photo effort of today. I cut off the chase and headed back to the Sacramento Airport. I gassed up the PT Cruiser having used half of a tank going east and a quarter of a tank west. Just proves how long the grade is on Donner Pass going east. I returned the car to Dollar then took the Shuttle Bus back to Terminal 1. There I waited for Yolo Bus 43A which took me to 8th and J Street in Sacramento. I walked over to K Street and at the Light Rail Station when I saw the train for Meadowview coming I called my brother Bruce.

The Meadowview Train came into the station and I boarded the trolley. In twenty minutes I was stepping off at Meadowview where my brother Bruce was waiting. We drove to his house and I started my visit with him and his family.

4/18/2009 The next morning Bruce drove me down to Lodi where I would board the Thruway Bus to Stockton.

The Lodi Arch.

The former Southern Pacific Lodi Station.

The Fountain out in front of the Lodi Station. I said my goodbyes to Bruce as the Thruway Bus pulled in right on time. It was a quick twenty minute trip to the Stockton Amtrak Station where I waited for San Joaquin Train 714.

An eastbound BNSF Stack Train went through the Stockton Station.

San Joaquin 714 pulled into Stockton and I boarded a Surfliner style Cab Car. My trip started with me watching Ronnie James Dio "Holy Diver Live" DVD on my Computer. I enjoyed that until almost Fresno where I put on Guns & Roses "Live to Tokyo". A little of my Queensryche DVD got me to Wasco. From there I labeled my slides on the way to Bakersfield then I got on the bus and continued labeling the slides as the bus took me over the Tejon Pass and down the south side where I finished at Saugus. I enjoyed the rest of the trip to LAUPT where I waited for Surfliner 590. It turned out that this was the last southbound through train tonight due to grade crossing work in San Juan Capistrano. The train made a quick trip south to Santa Ana where my mother was waiting to take me home. It had been another fantastic adventure and a great Amtrak Trip home.